The Trilemma Argument – A Preliminary Evaluation

I have been mostly defending the Trilemma argument against various objections for the past few weeks, so I have not spent much time thinking about how to refute it. I reject the conclusion, of course, on the basis of various other reasons unrelated to the Trilemma.

God, as understood in Western theism, is an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good person, and Jesus was none of those things:

God is, by definition, a perfectly good person.
Jesus was not a perfectly good person.
Therefore,
Jesus was not God.

God is, by definition, all-knowing.
Jesus was not all-knowing.
Therefore,
Jesus was not God.

God is, by definition, all-powerful.
Jesus was not all-powerful.
Therefore,
Jesus was not God.

I’m not going to argue here for the factual premises, but I feel confident that those premises are true and that I could make a good case for each of those premises.

For these and other reasons, I do not accept the conclusion of the Trilemma. But the fact that there are strong counterarguments to the conclusion of the Trilemma does not demonstrate that the Trilemma is a bad argument, and it certainly does not show how or why the Trilemma argument goes wrong.

Here is my preliminary evaluation of the Trilemma:

The Trilemma is a valid deductive argument; the logic, as I have interpreted the argument, is good. But there are problems with at least some of the premises:

Premise (1) is probably false.
Premise (2) is true (or true for the most part).
Premise (3) is true (or true for the most part).
Premise (4) is probably true.
Premise (5) is probably true.

Given this assessment of the premises, the argument fails, because premise (1) is probably false (I am building a case against this premise on my own blog). However, whenever possible, I like to present believers with an objection in the form of a dilemma, in order to broaden the scope of the attack on an apologetic argument, and to make it more difficult for the believer to dismiss my objection. This sort of move can be made with the Trilemma.

Premise (1) is probably false, and I would argue strenuously for this objection. If my analysis of the evidence is correct, then the Trilemma is a bad argument. But what if, despite my best effort to accurately assess (1), I am mistaken, and McDowell is correct concerning this issue? Suppose that Jesus did claim to literally be the God of Western theism. If was persuaded that this was the case, then I would change my view on the probability of the truth of premises (4) and (5).

Probability assessments are made on the basis of background information. If my assumption about what Jesus did or did not claim about himself changes, then that would be a legitimate basis for changing my assessment of the probability of (4) and (5). If Jesus really did claim to be God, in the sense of literally being the God of Western theism, then it seems probable that either (4) or (5) would be false.

I don’t know of any solid reason to believe that Jesus was mentally ill or a liar, and furthermore, as a matter of fairness, I would presume him to be innocent until proved guilty (either of being mentally ill or of being a liar), but if we reason hypothetically and suppose that Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism, then the game has changed and we would then have a good reason to believe that we were dealing with either a liar or a mentally ill person.

Most people are sane and most people are generally honest, but people who go around claiming to literally be the God of Western theism are not most people. Once premise (1) is granted, all bets are off on Jesus’ sanity and honesty. The presumption of innocence is overturned by this supposition, and the burden of proof shifts to McDowell (and to anyone who would defend the Trilemma) to show that, contrary to appearances, Jesus was actually sane and honest.

Now there is evidence in the New Testament to support the sanity and honesty of Jesus. So, there would be no decisive refutation of the Trilemma on this second horn of the dilemma. However, the information that we have about Jesus is sketchy and questionable, so no claim about the mental health or honesty of Jesus can be shown to be more than probable at best.

One of the most solid claims that can be made about the historical Jesus is that he often taught or preached using parables about the Kingdom of God, but even that is not known for certain. That claim might reach a probability of .9 (9 chances in 10), but most specific claims about the historical Jesus cannot be shown to be that probable. So the claim that Jesus was not mentally ill might be shown to be probable in the range of .8 to .9 (8 or 9 chances out of 10), setting aside the supposition that he claimed to literally be the God of Western theism. The claim that Jesus was not a liar might be shown to be probable to a similar degree, again setting aside the supposition that Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism.

When we add into the mix the supposition that Jesus claimed to literally be the God of Western theism, then the probabilities of (4) and (5) drop significantly. I would say the probability that Jesus was not mentally ill could not be any higher than about .7 to .8 at best, given this additional information. Similarly the probability that Jesus was not a liar would be significantly reduced.

All it takes is for one of these premises to be false and the argument fails. Both (4) and (5) must be true for the argument to succeed. So, the best that the Trilemma can do, even granting the highly dubious assumption that Jesus claimed to be God (in the sense of literally being the God of Western theism), is to give the conclusion a probability of approximately .5 to .6 (.7 x .7 = .49 and .8 x .8 = .64).

So, if my evaluation of premise (1) is correct, then the argument is clearly no good and must be rejected, on the other hand, if my evaluation of premise (1) is wrong, the most that could be derived from the Trilemma (best case) is to make the conclusion somewhat more likely than not.

Furthermore, this best-case probability would not take into account the powerful counterarguments mentioned in the opening of this post, so the all-things-considered probability would end up somewhere significantly south of .5, unless additional reasons equally as weighty as the skeptical arguments above could be produced to counteract them.

About Bradley Bowen
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley Bowen wrote: “God, as understood in Western theism, is an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good person, and Jesus was none of those things:

    Western theism encompasses Judaism and Islam which do not hold that Jesus was God. So you are speaking of Christianity. In general I don’t see the point for an atheist to discuss Christianity as it is a special case within theism; I don’t think one can make sense of Christianity before understanding theism. Christianity, if you will, is written in the language of theism. Also observe that theism may well be true and therefore atheism may well be false, no matter whether Christianity is true or not. So, frankly, every time an atheist discusses Christianity not to mention fundamentalist Christianity I smell a red herring. Why not concentrate on the relevant question of whether theism or else naturalism is true, or, to put it in a way which is more amenable to analysis, why not concentrate on the basic question of whether theism or naturalism is more reasonable?

    Bradley Bowen wrote: “ God is, by definition, a perfectly good person. Jesus was not a perfectly good person. Therefore, Jesus was not God.

    Well the second premise is very shaky indeed. Why not try:

    God is, by definition, everywhere. Jesus was not everywhere. Therefore, Jesus was not God.

    Or:

    God is, by definition, pure spirit. Jesus was not pure spirit. Therefore, Jesus was not God.

    Or:

    God, by definition, does not have a nose. Jesus had a nose. Therefore, Jesus was not God.

    Or:

    Jesus was the son of God. Jesus was not the son of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus was not God.

    I often wonder how so many atheists are under the impression that theism in general and Christianity in particular are not only false but obviously false, as can be demonstrated by some trivial argument (the “ultimate Boeing 747 gambit” anyone?). But for the last three millennia many of the smartest philosophers in the West have been theists, and even in our scientistic age arguably still are. Does anybody really think some trivial argument would disprove theism or Christianity? Speaking of delusions.

    So what’s wrong with the arguments above? Actually, nothing at all. Obviously, Jesus was not God; that’s not what Christianity claims (even though Christians often speak this way for short). What Christianity claims is that Jesus was the *incarnation* of God, and more exactly that Jesus was the incarnation of the second hypostasis of God, namely of the so-called “Son” or “Word”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14485509846775012081 Hari Seldon

    Dianelos said: “In general I don’t see the point for an atheist to discuss Christianity as it is a special case within theism;”

    On the contrary, I think atheists spend way way too much time engaging theism, whereas most actual believers are either christians, muslims or jews. They define primarily themselves as such, not as “theists”. In fact, most of the believers that speak of themselves as “theists”, are actually christians, muslims, or jews. “Pure” theists are very rare.

    It is the special characteristics of christianity that motivated the first christians, and not that it is just a special case of theism. I think atheists would do well in focusing on the particular characteristics of these three religions, rather than on their generic commonalities.

    Dianelos said: “But for the last three millennia many of the smartest philosophers in the West have been theists, and even in our scientistic age arguably still are. Does anybody really think some trivial argument would disprove theism or Christianity?”

    I don’t think that’s a merit. Most of these philosophers have been either christians, muslims, or jews. These three religions assert incompatible beliefs (Jesus is/isn’t God, God is/isn’t 3-in-1, etc.), which are obviously very important issues for each of these religions. And, after more than one millenia, the best christian philosophers/apologists/whatever have been unable to convince their fellow best muslim/jew philosophers about the issues that define and differentiate each of their religions. We still have christians, muslims, and jews. And buddhists, and hindus. And their so incredibly good philososophers are also christians, muslims, and jews, not generic theists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00203311711885538229 Daniel A. Wang

    “I think atheists spend way way too much time engaging theism, whereas most actual believers are either christians, muslims or jews.”

    Hence theists. If theism is false, so also Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Even if all three were false, theism could still be true. It makes perfect sense to investigate the theistic base which underlies these religions, in addition to investigating the specific religious claims.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14485509846775012081 Hari Seldon

    Daniel A. Wang said: “Hence theists. If theism is false, so also Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Even if all three were false, theism could still be true. It makes perfect sense to investigate the theistic base which underlies these religions, in addition to investigating the specific religious claims.”

    Yes, but I think we already do a lot of the former (because probably it is more satisfying intellectually) but not enough of the later.

    Most religious believers care about the specifics of their religion, specially revealed truth. They also tend to belong to organized religions who have strong social influence (Inquisition, creationism, Catholic Church, sharia law, …). After all, they know what God wants from us. A world where only some sort of generic fluffy theistic belief is left, wouldn’t be that bad.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Hari Seldon said: “ On the contrary, I think atheists spend way way too much time engaging theism, whereas most actual believers are either christians, muslims or jews.

    So? Why should a freethinking atheist care about the particular beliefs of believers? Even if there are errors in the beliefs of all believers, this would not falsify theism. My point is very simple really: If an atheist finds reason to reject theism then that same reason works against any particular theistic worldview, be it Christianity or whatever. But if an atheist finds reason to specifically reject, say, Christianity, this does not affect theism.

    As for atheists spending way too much time engaging theism, I wonder if that’s actually true. One often sees atheists discuss the virgin birth of Jesus, quoting from the Old Testament, and the like. Even in the (actually quite good) “Nonbelief and Evil” by Theodore Drange, this academic philosopher spends about 90% of the book attacking the “God of Evangelical Christianity”, that is the God concept you get from a literal reading of the Bible. Why bother, I wonder.

    Hari Seldon said: “ These three religions assert incompatible beliefs (Jesus is/isn’t God, God is/isn’t 3-in-1, etc.), which are obviously very important issues for each of these religions.

    First of all these may only be apparent contradictions. For example all three great monotheistic religions affirm and agree that there is one God. But Christianity makes an additional claim about the nature of God, namely that it is trinitarian. Judaism and Islam perhaps fail to see that, but this does not mean they contradict Christianity. Similarly, there is no necessary contradiction between the claim “S is a man” and “S is a bachelor”.

    Not to mention that where differences do exist, these are miniscule when put in perspective. After all, if the epistemic distance between naturalism and theism is 100, the epistemic distance between the three great monotheistic religions is perhaps 3. And in what really matters, namely our place in the world and how we should live, the three monotheistic religions almost exactly agree.

    Hari Seldon said: “ And, after more than one millenia, the best christian philosophers/apologists/whatever have been unable to convince their fellow best muslim/jew philosophers about the issues that define and differentiate each of their religions.

    Granted, for metaphysics is difficult. Now by the same measure compare how well naturalists agree with each other. By any objective measure the differences here are much stronger; after all naturalists cannot even agree on the very basics such as whether physical reality is deterministic or not, whether there one or many universes, not even whether causality only works forwards in time or not. As for the human condition they don’t agree about whether we have free will or not, or about what our consciousness actually is. I mean how much deeper can the differences go? And while the differences in the theistic camp appear to be diminishing (albeit at a glacial pace), the differences in the naturalistic camp appear to be exploding. I don’t personally judge the presence of such differences to be particularly weighty evidence, but for all it’s worth even here theism appears to fare better than naturalism. (Naturalism of course is the ontological worldview the typical atheist holds).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos Georgoudis said…

    Also observe that theism may well be true and therefore atheism may well be false, no matter whether Christianity is true or not. So, frankly, every time an atheist discusses Christianity not to mention fundamentalist Christianity I smell a red herring. Why not concentrate on the relevant question of whether theism or else naturalism is true, or, to put it in a way which is more amenable to analysis, why not concentrate on the basic question of whether theism or naturalism is more reasonable?
    =================
    Response:

    I realize that this blog focuses on naturalism and atheism, and that objections to Christianity, esp. to Christian beliefs about Jesus, do not directly relate to the issues of whether Naturalism or Atheism are true or rationally justified. I intend to contribute posts in the coming months that are more directly on topic.

    I am personally more interested in critique of Christianity than critique of theism, and that is the main reason why I sometimes contribute posts on Jesus and Christianity. Christianity is the dominant religion in my country (USA), and I am personally familiar with Christianity having spent a decade of my life as a devout Evangelical Christian believer. My mother and sisters and their husbands are all Evangelical Christians. Furthermore, Evangelical Christians helped to re-elect George Bush to a second term, with disasterous consequences for our economy, our military, our environment, our standing in the world community, the lives of citizens of Iraq, our constitution, and our democracy. So, my life is bound up with Christianity, and my thinking is focused on critique of Christianity.

    I am an atheist, but theism does not bother me or make me worried about the future. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are a different matter. These religions do bother me and are cause for concern about the future. I’m better equipped to criticize Christianity than the other two major religions of the West, so that is where I put my efforts.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos Georgoudis said…

    Obviously, Jesus was not God; that’s not what Christianity claims (even though Christians often speak this way for short). What Christianity claims is that Jesus was the *incarnation* of God, and more exactly that Jesus was the incarnation of the second hypostasis of God, namely of the so-called “Son” or “Word”.
    ==========
    Response:

    You make a very good point here.

    There are different conclusions that one might draw from your point. One possibility is that I have misinterpreted McDowell’s Trilemma argument, and thus my objections miss the mark because they are aimed at an argument that is different than the argument that McDowell intended.

    Another possiblity is that I have correctly interpreted McDowell’s Trilemma argument, but his argument is not of direct relevance to Christianity, because McDowell is arguing for a view that is contrary to traditional Christian doctrine.

    This second possibility can be divided further into two more possibilities. One being that McDowell’s Trilemma can be salvaged by revising the conclusion and making corresponding changes to the premises. The other being that the Trilemma is not salvagable at all, given that traditional Christian belief implies the denial of the claim that “Jesus was God.”

    Do you have an opinion about which of these three possibilities is the case?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    McDowell is unclear about what the conclusion of the Trilemma is supposed to be. But since he clearly states the key premise this way: "Jesus claimed to be God" (More Than a Carpenter, p.27), the conclusion has to be: "Jesus was God" for the logic of the argument to go through.

    Nevertheless, McDowell throws out a wide variety of statements about Jesus that he treats as conclusions of the Trilemma:

    Jesus' "claims of deity" were true. (MTC, p.10, p.20, p.21)

    Jesus was "God". (MTC, p.10, p.11, p.14, p.18, p.19, p.21, p.26, p.27, p.28, p.30, p.31, p.32, p.33, p.34)

    Jesus was "God Incarnate". (MTC, p.12 & p.13)

    Jesus was "the Son of God". (MTC, p.13, p.21, p.23, p.26, p.33, p.34)

    Jesus was "divine". (MTC, p.14, p.23)

    Jesus was "equal with God". (MTC, p.15 & p.17)

    Jesus was "one in essence and nature with God". (MTC, p.17)

    Jesus was "Lord" (MTC, p.26, p.34)

    Jesus was "the Christ" (MTC, p.33, p.34)

    None of these words or phrases are clear in meaning, and none of these words or phrases are clarified or defined by McDowell, with the exception of the word "God". McDowell does not define "God" as an adjective or characteristic, but rather as a specific entity that possesses certain characteristics. So "God" does NOT mean "divine".

    McDowell does draw some inferences that appear to support my interpretation of the conclusion of the Trilemma. Here is the form of reasoning that he uses:

    X is true only of God.
    Therefore,
    If X was true of Jesus, then Jesus was God.

    Only God can forgive sins.
    Therefore,
    If Jesus could forgive sins, then Jesus was God. (MTC, p.19)

    Only God is omnipotent.
    Therefore,
    If Jesus was omnipotent, then Jesus was God. (MTC, p.11)

    Only God is omniscient.
    Therefore,
    If Jesus was omniscient, then Jesus was God. (MTC, p. 11)

    This sort of reasoning implies that McDowell was arguing for the conclusion that Jesus was identical with God, not merely that that Jesus was divine (in nature):

    Only one particular entity E has characteristic X.
    Person P has characteristic X.
    Therefore,
    Person P is identical with the one particular entity E.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley Bowen said: “I am personally more interested in critique of Christianity than critique of theism, and that is the main reason why I sometimes contribute posts on Jesus and Christianity.

    As I have already said I think it’s difficult for somebody to really understand Christianity without first being convinced that theism is the correct description of reality. After all Christianity is a particular (and I may say sophisticated) *theistic* worldview.

    And, in any case, if you want to critique Christianity itself, I don’t think that arguing about Jesus is the best way to do that, because even though Jesus is the founder of Christianity, Christianity is not about Jesus. (Neither of course is Christianity about Christian organizations, or their policies and influences on society, good or bad.)

    Christianity is I think a particular philosophy of life, a particular belief system that most Christians experience as life enhancing. This belief system consists both of an ethical and an ontological dimension. As an ethical system Christianity submits that we should live in a particular way, a way which following Jesus’s example is characterized by selfless love and trust in God. Ethics is I think is the most relevant part of Christianity because it’s the one that can most affect our life and the life of others. As for Christianity’s ontological beliefs I think their worth lies precisely in that they help us make sense of its ethical system and empower us to follow it. In this context Christianity has something to say about the nature of God, as well as why God created us and our environment the way they are (see the Christian theodicy). Finally and less importantly Christianity includes a particular set of beliefs about the ontology of its founder Jesus of Nazareth.

    I personally find it unfortunate that much of what is thought about, written about, and debated about Christianity is not so much Christianity’s call to a particular way of life, but rather ontological theorizing especially about Jesus. Actually an inordinate amount of time is wasted in discussing what exactly happened to the corpse of Jesus after the crucifixion. I think it should be clear that what is central and important and valuable in Christianity is *not* forming true beliefs about Jesus’s corpse. I really cannot understand what the brouhaha is about. I have seen serious people write thick volumes arguing that the corpse of Jesus rose bodily but in a transformed physical state, one that permitted the resurrected body to pass through walls and to discuss hours on end with disciples without them noticing they were talking to Jesus. But 1) such a physically transformed body cannot reasonably be called “physical” anymore, and 2) one way or the other I fail to see what the relevance is. What I find reasonable to believe is that the closest disciples did have powerful and transforming spiritual experiences for many days after Jesus’s crucifixion, experiences of Jesus being alive with them again in a way that was so strong and significant that they could best be described as a bodily presence. For one who believes in God and moreover believes that Jesus was God incarnate it is extremely probable that the disciples were telling the truth when they claimed such experiences.

    Bradly Bowen said: “Christianity is the dominant religion in my country (USA), and I am personally familiar with Christianity having spent a decade of my life as a devout Evangelical Christian believer.

    Organized religion is not the best way to understand Christianity. Not to mention there is a part of Evangelical Christianity which is so obsessed with the Bible that it has for practical purposes forgotten that in Christianity we are supposed to follow the living Christ – and not any idols including ones made of paper.

    Bradly Bowen said: “Furthermore, Evangelical Christians helped to re-elect George Bush to a second term, with disasterous consequences for our economy, our military, our environment, our standing in the world community, the lives of citizens of Iraq, our constitution, and our democracy.

    Well there is a loony fringe to organized religion, one perhaps big enough to tip elections. So what are we to do about it? And let’s not forget that the idea of a significant proportion of the voting public thinking like atheist Christopher Hitchens does not look very appealing either. I personally think that in the long run an all-around better education is the only answer.

    In any case my impression is that those who helped to re-elect George W Bush were those who thought that in a time of war you stand behind the commander in chief no matter what, especially after bid Laden advised the American people not to vote for him. And of course all those who care more about how many taxes they are going to pay the next year than about what’s good for their country or for the world or for their children’s future. I find it remarkable that when the US was about to start its “preemptive” war against Iraq the one American institution that openly and immediately stood up and spoke against the war was not the press, not the academia, not the National Academy of Sciences, but the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As well as one certain young senator (who incidentally appears to be a person of genuine faith).

    In relation to the Trilemma argument Bradly Bowen said: “Do you have an opinion about which of these three possibilities is the case?

    I think the very last one comes closest: I don’t think that Jesus did claim to be God in any literal sense. I don’t think that Jesus experienced life both as a human and as God because this idea strikes me as incoherent. I think that Jesus experienced life fully and only as a human and did not know that He was God incarnate. Why do I think so? Because if the alternative were the case then the main content of his ministry, namely the power of His example, would be lost. Indeed the very value of the good He did in His life as well as the value of His sacrifice would be trivialized. For what can be easier than to be good and to sacrifice one’s human life if one *knows* one is God incarnate? For me the very meaning of “God became human” entails that God became fully human with all the limitations that this personal condition entails. Now Jesus may have realized that He was a special kind of human with a special and perhaps unique relationship to God, burdened with a special and perhaps unique mission on Earth, who knows? As for myself I can imagine the historical Jesus saying something like “I am in God as God is in me; may I be in you too as you are in me” – but I cannot imagine the historical Jesus saying “I am God”. In conclusion I think that the first premise of the Trilemma argument is very improbable. (By all accounts Jesus spent far more time teaching about what we should do and about the relationship between God and us than about Himself; not to mention it’s very plausible that Jesus in His own life and words demonstrated the personal humility He was teaching to others.)

    Marcus Borg has made the observation that there has been an ongoing evolution of Christianity’s understanding of God and of His/Her providence in history including the ministry of Jesus Christ, indeed an evolution that is already clearly noticeable when one compares the earlier with the latter gospels. Borg speaks about the pre-Easter Jesus of history and the Post-Easter Christ of faith, the latter born out of the early Christians working out their experiences with the historical Jesus as well as later Christians working out their experience of the divine and of Christ’s continuing presence. The idea is not that knowledge about the Christ of faith has no literal or historical content and is therefore less important, but on the contrary that it is more relevant to one’s understanding of the deepest nature of reality which according to all the great religions is spiritual subjective and creative rather than physical concrete and mechanical. Indeed, contrary to the popular view that Christianity is unchangingly dogmatic, the fact is that since the crucifixion of Jesus and the end of Christ’s ministry as a historical person, Christianity’s worldview has greatly evolved and is still evolving, as should be evident to anybody who reads ancient or modern theology, or considers the debating between Christians that keeps going on as strongly as ever. I personally find the evolution of Christian thought, notwithstanding its winding and messy ways, to be an incredibly interesting and intellectually stimulating enterprise, and indeed to be one of the great fruits of the human mind. I think there is little doubt that right now when science helps dispel many of Christianity’s myths and superstitions Christianity’s worldview will be strengthened and its evolution will accelerate. Indeed, as far as I am concerned, many of modern atheism’s valid criticisms can only be of help too. The growing realization that the ontology of naturalism is very problematic can only be of help also. So I think Christianity is today living through its renaissance. The intellectual precision of some Christian thinkers as Alvin Plantinga and the depth and sheer freedom of thought of some Christian thinkers as John Hick are certainly inspiring. There is a splendid baby to be discovered in all the bathwater.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18121469980190428853 chippamo

    God is not a person. God is an entity. Jesus was 100% God and 100% man. Jesus could not be all knowing because he (God) only allowed himself to have the knowledge needed while in the earthly realm. What people know of us is only what we allow them to know. Our perception exists, but it is only known to others through our linited capacity to communicate to others in a manner in which they can properly understand its existance. God is an intangible entity that can only be known by way of his communication. Since people were not understanding his true intent, he came into the earthly realm via a virgin human female. He placed his DNA in one of her eggs. He allowed the human race the chance to choose a greater way of life, but they refused and killed the human messenger body, but they didn’t kill the God entity. Picture a scientist who is attempting to communicate with ants. He trys many methods to help the ants understand his desires for them. He uses food, water, and other things to entice them to move in certain directions. However, his great miracles are misunderstood. Finally, he dicovers a method that will allow him to become an ant. He transforms himself into an ant. He begins teaching the ants great wisdom. Even so, the Queen doesn’t like what he is doing. She has him stung and ripped apart by the other ants. This how I see Jesus. That is, except the scientist was just a person who died and could not ascend back to his first state of being. I know my perception and/or thoughts exist, but until I allow them to be heard or read, no one believes that they exist. My thoughts are a fact, but they have no form and cannot be sensed by anyone other than me. So, if someone believes that my thoughts don’t exist merely because I have spoken, is that person correct? Our existance is based solely upon the thoughts of God. If he decides to stop the thought of us, we will no longer exist. Our existance is much like the existance of our on thoughts. If we have a thought that we like, then we speak it. Because of that, it becomes a reality to others and to ourselves. If we support that thought, it may become known as a fact. God wants all of us to become a fact. He supports us. However, since we have the right to deny him, he can erase his writtings or change his mind. Then, any person (thought) that is not what God wills, will no longer exist. A thought has no mass or weight and it doesn’t take up any space. It is neither matter or antimatter. It cannot be measured. Yet, we all know that thoughts exist. How can any type of science prove the existance of a thought. Additionally, what is a thought other than nothing until it is spoken or written? How we perceive the world may not be that which others perceive. When I see a color that I am taught is red, but the color I see is not a color in the normal spectrum of perception, how does anyone know what color I see? They assume it is the same red that they see, but I don’t see red at all. I see an unnamed color. The red color that others see doesn’t exist in my perception. Likewise, I believe others see what I see. So, you see, we don’t really know what exists in the minds of others. If god doesn’t exist in your mind, then he doesn’t exist. However, you do exist in his mind, and he will not like your denial. Think about it and allow your perception to be known. Otherwise, I will not believe that you can have a thought or perception.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/18121469980190428853 chippamo

    God is not a person. God is an entity. Jesus was 100% God and 100% man. Jesus could not be all knowing because he (God) only allowed himself to have the knowledge needed while in the earthly realm. What people know of us is only what we allow them to know. Our perception exists, but it is only known to others through our linited capacity to communicate to others in a manner in which they can properly understand its existance. God is an intangible entity that can only be known by way of his communication. Since people were not understanding his true intent, he came into the earthly realm via a virgin human female. He placed his DNA in one of her eggs. He allowed the human race the chance to choose a greater way of life, but they refused and killed the human messenger body, but they didn’t kill the God entity. Picture a scientist who is attempting to communicate with ants. He trys many methods to help the ants understand his desires for them. He uses food, water, and other things to entice them to move in certain directions. However, his great miracles are misunderstood. Finally, he dicovers a method that will allow him to become an ant. He transforms himself into an ant. He begins teaching the ants great wisdom. Even so, the Queen doesn’t like what he is doing. She has him stung and ripped apart by the other ants. This how I see Jesus. That is, except the scientist was just a person who died and could not ascend back to his first state of being. I know my perception and/or thoughts exist, but until I allow them to be heard or read, no one believes that they exist. My thoughts are a fact, but they have no form and cannot be sensed by anyone other than me. So, if someone believes that my thoughts don’t exist merely because I have spoken, is that person correct? Our existance is based solely upon the thoughts of God. If he decides to stop the thought of us, we will no longer exist. Our existance is much like the existance of our on thoughts. If we have a thought that we like, then we speak it. Because of that, it becomes a reality to others and to ourselves. If we support that thought, it may become known as a fact. God wants all of us to become a fact. He supports us. However, since we have the right to deny him, he can erase his writtings or change his mind. Then, any person (thought) that is not what God wills, will no longer exist. A thought has no mass or weight and it doesn’t take up any space. It is neither matter or antimatter. It cannot be measured. Yet, we all know that thoughts exist. How can any type of science prove the existance of a thought. Additionally, what is a thought other than nothing until it is spoken or written? How we perceive the world may not be that which others perceive. When I see a color that I am taught is red, but the color I see is not a color in the normal spectrum of perception, how does anyone know what color I see? They assume it is the same red that they see, but I don’t see red at all. I see an unnamed color. The red color that others see doesn’t exist in my perception. Likewise, I believe others see what I see. So, you see, we don’t really know what exists in the minds of others. If god doesn’t exist in your mind, then he doesn’t exist. However, you do exist in his mind, and he will not like your denial. Think about it and allow your perception to be known. Otherwise, I will not believe that you can have a thought or perception.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    It is important to understand the difference between the “is” of predication and the “is” of identity. The conclusion of the Trilemma states that “Jesus was God”.

    I interpreted this as the “is” of identity:

    Jesus of Nazareth was identical with one particular entity, an entity which is the one and only all-powerful, all-knowing, and perfectly good person.

    This contrasts with interpreting the conclusion in terms of the “is” of predication. If we interpret the conclusion of the Trilemma in terms of the “is” of prediction, it would mean something like this:

    Jesus of Nazareth had the characteristic of divinity (e.g. being an all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good person).

    The interpretation based on the “is” of identity requires monotheism to be true, otherwise there is no single entity with which Jesus is to be identified.

    The interpretation based on the “is” of predication, on the other hand, does not require monotheism to be true, and is compatible with there being many gods, many divine persons or beings. Divinity is simply a characteristic or set of characteristics that defines a class or category of beings.

    So, which interpretation of “is” should we use here? If we go with the “is” of identity, then it is clear, as I argued in the opening paragraphs of my post, that Jesus is NOT God. It is admitted by staunch defenders of orthodox Christianity that Jesus was not omniscient. But God is omniscient, therefore Jesus cannot be God.

    So, it would seem that the claim “Jesus was God” could only have a chance of being true if we take this in terms of the “is” of predication.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Norman Geisler uses the Trilemma argument in his book I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (see Chapter 13). Like McDowell, his conclusion is not just that Jesus was divine, but is stated as “…Jesus was God.” (p. 348) and as “…Jesus is God.” (p.354).

    However, unlike McDowell, Geisler considers an objection to this conclusion that is similar to one of my counterarguments in the early paragraphs of my post:

    “Now how can Jesus be God if he is…limited in knowledge?” (p.350)

    This is similar to my counterargument:

    God is, by definition, all-knowing.
    Jesus was not all-knowing.
    Therefore,
    Jesus was not God.

    This argument is an instance of Leibniz’s Law concerning identity (See Logic by Kalish and Montague, second edition, Chapter V, p.274):

    1. Entity E1 has characteristic X.
    2. Entity E2 does not have characteristic X.
    Therefore
    3. Entity E1 is not identical to entity E2.

    Here is how Geisler responds to the objection:

    “The Trinity is three persons in one divine essence. In other words, there are three persons–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–who share one divine nature.” (p.350)

    “Jesus shares in the one divine nature, but he also has a distinct human nature.” (p.350)

    “…the incarnation was not the subtraction of deity; it was the addition of humanity. Indeed, when Jesus was conceived, he did not cease being God. He simply added a human nature.” (p.350-351)

    “…since Jesus has two natures, whenever you ask a question about him, you really have to ask two questions. For example, did Jesus know the time of his second coming? As God, yes; as man, no. Did Jesus know all things? As God, yes: as man, no.” (p.351-352)

    So, on this theory, Jesus had two minds, a divine mind that was omniscient, and a human mind that was not.

    The problem with this theoretical move is that it removes doubts about Jesus’ divinity by removing the question from the scope of empirical determination. Jesus can be as stupid and as ignorant as Miss California and yet still be a contender for the title of “God”, because of his alleged divine mind that is hidden from view by us ordinary mortals.

    Furthermore, if it is sane for Geisler to believe this about Jesus, then it would seem to be sane for Jesus to believe this as well. Thus, Jesus could have (rationally) recognized his own stupidity and ignorance while at the same time (sanely) believed himself to be in possession of a hidden-from-view divine and omniscient mind. In other words, if you can be an ordinary finite and flawed human being and sanely believe that you possess infinite knowledge and power in some hidden and inaccessible way, then there is nothing crazy about claiming to be God, even claiming to be the all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good God of Western theism.

    Another problem with the theory that Jesus had two minds, is that this creates a logical barrier to inferences from God’s character to Jesus’ character. Jesus could be a bloodthirsty thieving bastard, and yet still be God incarnate, because his human mind could be selfish and immoral, while his divine mind remains perfectly loving and good.

    Just two pages after explaining the two minds theory about Jesus, Geisler forgets about this logical bifurcation within the person of Jesus, and makes the following illogical inference:

    “Since we have already established that God is a morally perfect being…, then anything Jesus (who is God) teaches is true.” (p.354)

    This inference won’t work. Geisler wants to have his cake and eat it too. But if Jesus can have a divine and omniscient mind, while being an ignorant fool of a human being, then he can also have a divine and morally perfect mind, while also being a selfish bastard of a human being.

    Geisler cannot appeal to Leibniz’s Law just when it suits his purposes, and violate it when it is convenient. Breaking Leibniz’s Law and removing Jesus’ divinity from empirical determination comes with a price tag: though (on this scheme) the lack of observable divine characteristics does not count against his possession of a hidden divine nature, the reverse is true as well; the possession of a hidden divine nature fails to imply anything about whether Jesus was a morally good person in his actual, observable behavior.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    One more problem with the “two minds” theory concerning Jesus.

    I have pointed out that selfish and immoral behavior by Jesus would not rule out his being God incarnate, and the implication of this that his being God incarnate would not show Jesus to be a perfectly good person.

    But there is another problem raised by the “two minds” theory: we cannot infer from the claim that Jesus was a perfectly good person that he was God incarnate. Even if we knew for a fact that the observable behavior of Jesus was morally flawless, this would only give us information about his “human mind” and not about his other mind.

    Therefore, if we split Jesus into two minds, historical evidence showing his behaviour to be morally perfect would have no relevance for determining the moral character of his second mind, and thus this evidence would be compatible with the hypothesis that Jesus was the incarnation of Satan. His other mind, being hidden from the view of ordinary mortals, might be selfish in character, even perfectly evil, for all we know.

    Splitting Jesus into two minds thus protects belief in his divine nature from refutation in terms of evidence about Jesus’ character, but this move also protects the hypothesis that Jesus was the incarnation of the Devil from similar refutation.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    For a defense of the two-minds theory about Jesus by a Christian philosopher, see The Logic of God Incarnate by Thomas Morris (1986).

    For a skeptical critique of Morris’s views by an atheist philosopher, see Chapter 5 (“The Incarnation”) of The Case Against Christianity by Michael Martin (1991).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    The two-minds theory about Jesus Christ strikes me as kind of schizophrenic, frankly.

    Let’s see. According to Christian theology, Jesus was the incarnation of God (or rather the incarnation of the second hypostasis of God, which hypostasis is identified with the Word or with the Will of God – but never mind). Now a relevant question here is: how would it be like to be Jesus? Or, how did Jesus experience life? I think the only answer that makes any sense, including from the theistic point, is that Jesus was fully human, i.e. experienced life as any other human does with all the limitations, temptations, fears, pains, but also with all its joys, its experience of beauty and love and friendship, its religious experiences (which in the case of Jesus it’s safe to say were of enormous intensity), and so on.

    But then a second relevant question is this: if Jesus experienced life fully as a human then in what sense was Jesus the incarnation of God? In what sense was Jesus both human and God, indeed both fully human and fully God as orthodox Christianity has it? I think a more reasonable answer to this latter question is as follows. First consider that experiencing life entails two things: what is experienced but also who experiences it. For obviously there is no experience without a subject. My understanding is that the experience of Jesus was fully human but *who* experienced it was God. The very idea is that in the incarnation God truly and literally came down to our level and assumed the human condition. God in the incarnation shed His/Her divine attributes to become fully human and experienced life as, and only, as a human.

    Why God should do such a thing is another question; my argument here is that the action described is possible, coheres well with the Jesus of history, comports well with Christian theology, and comports well with the fundamental Christian claim that Jesus is our model (our “Lord”), the person we should try to emulate and to follow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos Georgoudis said…

    My understanding is that the experience of Jesus was fully human but *who* experienced it was God. The very idea is that in the incarnation God truly and literally came down to our level and assumed the human condition. God in the incarnation shed His/Her divine attributes to become fully human and experienced life as, and only, as a human.
    ==================

    One of God’s divine attributes is omniscience. So, are you saying that God was temporarily not omniscient? If so, doesn’t that mean that God ceased to be God, at least temporarily? If so, who was running the universe during that span of time? and How did this non-omniscient “God” get His/Her omniscience back?

    If not, then I don’t understand what you mean by “God…shed His/Her divine attributes to become fully human…”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley Bowen said: “One of God’s divine attributes is omniscience. So, are you saying that God was temporarily not omniscient? If so, doesn’t that mean that God ceased to be God, at least temporarily? If so, who was running the universe during that span of time? and How did this non-omniscient “God” get His/Her omniscience back?

    I have already commented on the question of how it was like to be Jesus of Nazareth: The claim that Jesus experienced at the same time both the divine and the human conditions is a contradiction in terms, because, for example, divine experience is characterized by non-limited knowledge and non-limited power whereas human experience is characterized by strongly limited knowledge and strongly limited power. The alternative that Jesus only experienced the divine condition falsifies Christianity, for it invalidates any value in Jesus’s sacrifice and invalidates the idea that Jesus is the model we should follow (our “Lord”). So the only alternative left is that Jesus experienced life only as a human. I trust we agree so far.

    Now I argue that Jesus was also fully God in the sense that the subject or the experiencer of Jesus’s human life was God. You ask whether this implies that God stopped being God for a while, who was running the world while God had shed His/Her divine attributes, etc. Please observe that I did not say that God for a while shed His/Her divine attributes, but rather that *in the Incarnation* God shed His/Her divine attributes. God is not a person limited in the temporal or spatial sense like we are. When we shed some of our attributes (say the attribute of reason when we get drunk, or the attribute of colorful vision when we wear colored goggles) then the part of reality which we are has fully shed these attributes. God, on the other hand, is not just a personal being but is also the foundation of reality, the “ground of all being” as some theologians put it. So in shedding His/Her divine attributes and truly and really experiencing the human condition in Jesus of Nazareth, it’s not like God stopped being God – for God continued being the personal foundation of reality and indeed the experiencer of all while Jesus was alive on Earth. In other words the claim that the subject of Jesus’s life was God does not imply that God was nowhere else but in Jesus.

    Why the Incarnation? In the Incarnation of God in Jesus, God attained knowledge of the human condition, knowledge which is logically impossible to attain without being human. What knowledge is that? The *experiential* knowledge of being human[1]. A basic and indeed very beautiful tenet of Christianity is that by experiencing the human condition God invites and opens the way for us to experience the divine condition, i.e. makes theosis possible. How is the Incarnation an act of opening the way to theosis (or to “salvation” as it is more commonly but less precisely said)? It is by way of connecting the divine and the human conditions. As in the Incarnation God experienced the human condition, thus in salvation we are enabled to experience the divine condition. As in the creation of humanity, the first Adam, the divine potential of humanity is created, in the Incarnation, the second Adam, that potential is realized and the path towards God is opened.

    Further, in the Incarnation God atones for evil (the limitations of our condition which express themselves in our suffering and sins) but in my view God does not atone evil to Him/Herself (an idea that strikes me as incoherent) but rather atones it to us. In the Incarnation and by suffering evil God atones the evil *we* suffer; it’s like God saying, look you have to pass through this and I have to pass through this, we are in this together from the beginning to the end. So, the Incarnation is an act of pure and self-transcending love and humility, an act in which God justifies and sanctifies our limitations. From where I stand, i.e. from a theistic understanding of reality, the Incarnation really makes huge sense.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley: Coming back to the issue you raised, I’d like to make a final point. The conceptual problems of the Incarnation to which you allude were already understood by first century Christians. As is to be expected in a world created by God problems lead to valuable solutions, and this particular problem led I think the first Christians to the insight about the Trinitarian nature of God. Their solution (which is especially evident in John’s Gospel) is that it was not God who incarnated in Jesus, but rather the second personal hypostasis of God, the one which John calls the “Word” but which is more clearly expressed as the “Will” of God (through whom “all things did happen, and without him happened not even one thing that has happened”). So the idea here is that it was the will of God that incarnated in Jesus, and not the other two personal hypostases of God which may be identified with the perceptual experience and the mind of God, and whose incarnation would create the conceptual problems that trouble you above. So in Jesus we see embodied the moral perfection of God’s will, which easily fits within the limitations of the human condition (whereas the other perfections of God such as perfect knowledge or perfect power don’t), and which is the more relevant perfection as far as we are concerned. Why the more relevant? Because it is by emulating or identifying with or by absorbing or by embodying ourselves that perfection that we reach the others[2]. Which, I submit, is the deeper meaning in Jesus’s much misunderstood saying that nobody comes to God except through me. Indeed the only way to theosis is by following the path of moral perfection[3]. This is a basic fact of the human condition, and not a claim to Christian exclusivism as it is often misinterpreted.

    [1] The same kind of knowledge that Frank Jackson’s Mary obtains when she leaves her black and white room.

    [2] It was already known to Plato that the value of all other perfections is contingent on the presence of moral perfection.

    [3] Or, in Christian-speak, by following Jesus Christ, that is by realizing in one’s life the perfection of God’s will which Jesus embodied and which can still be experienced through the presence of the living Christ. To *trust* that salvation comes by embodying the will of God or, which says the same, by becoming like Christ, is the meaning of “salvation through faith in Christ”, and not the vacuous “just believe that Jesus is your personal savior and you’ll be saved”. And it is also perhaps the deeper meaning of the sacrament of the Eucharist (“the beautiful grace”): that by uniting ourselves with the body of Christ we are reminded of the path that Jesus opened, namely the path of embodying God’s will. The same act of pure love and humility on our part which Muslims so beautifully call the surrender, Islam.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos Georgoudis said…

    Now I argue that Jesus was also fully God in the sense that the subject or the experiencer of Jesus’s human life was God.

    =========
    I am not sure that I understand your claim here. It seems to me that you are using key concepts in an illogical way.

    On your view of God, God is three persons. Thus “the subject” of an experience if divine, must be one of three persons: God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit.

    If the person Jesus had a finite and limited mind, then “the subject” of Jesus’ experiences was a person with a finite and limited mind, and thus that person and that subject was not divine.

    But you insist that the subject of Jesus’ experiences was “God”. I infer that you mean by “God” here, the person God the Son. But God the Son, I take it, is divine and has an infinite and unlimited mind, because God the Son is divine.

    If I understand correctly what you are saying, and I might well be misunderstanding you, then you seem to be committed to the very two-minds theory that you wish to reject.

    What you say appears to imply that there were two subjects or two minds receiving the input from Jesus’ senses: (1) the finite and limited mind of Jesus the man, and (2) the inifinite and unlimited mind of God the Son.

    I don’t see how your view avoids attributing two minds to Jesus, a finite mind and an infinite mind.

    I think to make progress on this discussion, we may need to agree on some basic conceptual points about: “persons” “subjects” “minds” “beings” “wills” “substances” and “hypostases”.

    There are too many abstract concepts bouncing around here without definition or qualifications.

    My presumption is that a person can have only one mind and only one will, and no less than one mind and one will.

    A subject or experiencer need not be a person (non-human animals can have experiences), but must have a mind, and a subject cannot have more than one mind.

    Do we have agreement on these points so far? If not, please explain.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    I am kind of sorry to have brought up the issue of the Trinitarian nature of God, not so much because I consider it especially difficult in itself, but because there is so much misunderstanding about it that communication becomes hard. And even though the first Christians did come to the dogma of the Trinity by working out their experience of Jesus (both pre- and post-Easter), I think that in order to reach a basic understanding of the Incarnation and of how it is that Jesus was both fully human and fully God one does not need to use the Trinity. So, without recourse to the Trinity, do you see any conceptual problem with the idea that Jesus’s personal experience of life was fully human including all its limitations, while the subject or experiencer of this life was God?

    Bradley Bowen said: “On your view of God, God is three persons.

    Actually I have never said that. The formula “God is three persons in one being” is often used in Christian theology, but in my view the use of “persons” in this context is misleading. (Perhaps the origin of this expression lies in the extrapolation of the fact that the first Christians experienced Jesus as a human person, or as the visible face of God.) The formula I have been using is that in God there are three hypostases (which I believe is the correct technical term). Indeed I’d argue that far from this being some kind of mystery it is the case that in all persons there are three hypostases, namely perceiving, thinking, and willing. And, significantly, one’s experience of other persons can be similarly structured. So “in the flesh”, as it were, we in our current condition experience another person’s will in actions and words, and indirectly the other person’s mind in thoughts and purpose behind that will. Similarly, in the case of God we experienced His/Her will in the actions and words of Jesus of Nazareth, and indirectly learned about God’s thoughts and purpose in Jesus’s good message. But in our relationship with another person there is also the possibility of experiencing the other person’s perception; that is the experience of “empathy”, an experience which in the case of great love can become quite strong. Similarly in the case of great love for God one can experience reality as God perceives it. I am speaking of the so-called mystical experience characterized by great beauty and by a feeling of interconnectedness, unity and self-transcendence. In conclusion the dogma of Trinity clarifies both the structure (the hypostases) of what it is to be a person (including a person such as God), and also the structure of interpersonal relationship (including of our relationship with God). As such then the Trinity expresses one of the deepest metaphysical insights there are.

    Bradley Bowen said: “Thus “the subject” of an experience if divine, must be one of three persons: God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit.

    As should be evident from what I write above my view is that as there is only one God there is also only one subject/experiencer. Indeed I think that if you ask a knowledgeable Christian whether according to the orthodox understanding it is possible for, say, God the Father to experience X and for God the Son not to experience X, he or she will deny it. Similarly to the question of whether it is possible for us to have experience Y of God the Father without having the same experience Y of God the Son (say loving the Father more than the Son, or finding the Son more beautiful than the Father), the knowledgeable Christian will respond in the negative too (also see John 14:9). So as you see there are a lot of propositions which are true in relation to “three persons” but not true in relation to the Trinity, which shows why it’s misleading to use the formula “three persons” when speaking of the Trinity.

    (continues)

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley Bowen said: “If the person Jesus had a finite and limited mind, then “the subject” of Jesus’ experiences was a person with a finite and limited mind, and thus that person and that subject was not divine.

    No, that need not be the case. For example when I wear red goggles I experience limited color vision but this does not imply that I am no longer a full color vision person. I am still me when I self-limit myself.

    Bradley Bowen said: “But you insist that the subject of Jesus’ experiences was “God”. I infer that you mean by “God” here, the person God the Son.

    No, for there is one God; “God the Son” specifies the second hypostasis *of* God. In traditional and in my view more confusing terms one would express the same thus: There is one Trinity; “God the Son” specifies the second person *of* the Trinity.

    Bradley Bowen said: “I think to make progress on this discussion, we may need to agree on some basic conceptual points about: “persons” “subjects” “minds” “beings” “wills” “substances” and “hypostases”. There are too many abstract concepts bouncing around here without definition or qualifications.

    Right.

    My opinion is this: To the degree that we are able to understand the personal dimension of God we may only use concepts out of our own personal experience. And further: To the degree that it is useful in our current condition to understand the personal dimension of God concepts out of our own personal experience are entirely sufficient. – In this sense, I say, dogma of the Trinity far from being mysterious is a way to understand our own personal reality.

    This leaves only two concepts in your list which are not clear. I am not sure about the relevance of the claim that the three hypostases are of the same “substance” – perhaps it is meant in the old ontological sense of fundamental nature, or perhaps it is used to express the fundamental unity of the Trinity in the sense that one hypostasis cannot exist indeed has no meaning without the others. As for “hypostasis” its literal meaning is “what stands beneath”, what we today might call “necessary element of an entity’ss basic structure”. Like: input, processing, and output are the three hypostases of any information processing mechanism.

    Bradley Bowen said: “My presumption is that a person can have only one mind and only one will, and no less than one mind and one will.

    Right. And a person can have only one perceptual experience, and no less than on perceptual experience. So here you have it: perception, mind, and will – the trinitarian structure of all persons. Further observe that none of these hypostases has independent existence, that each makes little sense without the other two, and of course that personhood does not obtain if one the three is missing, as you point out above.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Dianelos,

    Thank you for patiently explaining and clarifying your views on the Incarnation and Trinity. I think I’m starting to understand your position.

    Your emphasis appears to be on the unity of God, and I think you believe that God is just one person, with just one mind, just one will, and just one perceptual experience.

    Your view appears to contradict the common Christian belief that God is three persons in one being. But as an atheist, I’m not a stickler about “Orthodoxy”, so I would not reject your viewpoint simply because it differs from a common Christian belief or from a traditional Christian belief.

    If God is just one person, with just one mind, one will, and one experience, and if Jesus is that will, the Father is that mind, and the Holy Spirit that experience, then an implication of this view is that I, as an ordinary person, am more complete than Jesus, and than the Father, and than the Holy Spirit. This is because I am a complete person, whereas they are each merely parts of a person. Why should I worship Jesus or the Father if I am a complete person, but they are merely parts of a person? How can I even have a meaningful relationship with a part of a person (e.g. a will)?

    You imply that it is not possible for “God the Father to experience X and for God the Son not to experience X”. But I think the traditional Christian belief is that Jesus -the Son of God- suffered on the cross for our sins, but God the Father did not. So the traditional Christian view is that the Son of God can have experiences not had by God the Father.

    You use an anaology to argue that an infinite and unlimited mind could be the subject of ordinary human experiences: “…when I wear red goggles I experience limited color vision but this does not imply that I am no longer a full color vision person.”

    But while you are wearing the red goggles you do not experience full color vision. At any given point in time you can either have limited color vision or full color vision. You cannot experience both limited color vision and full color vision at the same time. I think the same is true of experience in general. One person or mind cannot experience reality as if from a limited and finite mind at the same time as experiencing reality from an unlimited and infinite mind.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I’m going to say a little more about the red-goggles analogy.

    If I’m wearing red goggles and you walk into the room where I am, and ask “What color is my shirt?”, then I am not in a position to know the color of your shirt.

    Suppose that you are wearing a red shirt. The shirt will look black to me, because the goggles will block out most of the visible light reflecting off of your shirt. If I am unaware that my color vision is limited by the presence of the red goggles, then I would mistakenly infer that you are wearing a black shirt.

    On the other hand, if I am aware of the red goggles, then I will be more cautious and will remain agnostic about whether your shirt is black or red, knowing that a red shirt would appear to be black to me because of the goggles.

    Because of the limitation imposed by wearing the goggles, I am not in a position to know whether you are wearing a red shirt.

    Can I experience the world with this limitation of my color vision while also experiencing the world without this limitation? I don’t see how both kinds of experience are possible for one mind to have at the same time.

    When you walk into the room and I look at your shirt, I either perceive it to be red or I don’t. If I perceive it to be red, then I am not experiencing the shirt with the red-goggles limitation. If I don’t perceive it to be red, then I am not experiencing it with full color vision.

    So, it seems to me that the red-goggles analogy supports the view that one mind cannot have both a limited perception of reality while at the same time having an unlimited perception of reality.

    In order to get the combination of limited and unlimited experience, there must either be two minds, or else a change of state over time (first having a limited experience of reality and later having an unlimited experience of reality, analogous to looking at the shirt with the goggles on, and then removing the goggles and looking at the shirt again).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Correction:

    Red colored goggles would ALLOW red light through from a red shirt. A red filter would block out OTHER colors of light, not red. So, to make my example work, the color of the shirt needs to be a color other than red (Yellow? Blue?).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley Bowen said: “Your emphasis appears to be on the unity of God, and I think you believe that God is just one person, with just one mind, just one will, and just one perceptual experience.

    Right.

    Bradley Bowen said: “Your view appears to contradict the common Christian belief that God is three persons in one being. But as an atheist, I'm not a stickler about "Orthodoxy", so I would not reject your viewpoint simply because it differs from a common Christian belief or from a traditional Christian belief.

    Much of Trinitarian theology is frightfully complicated, so complicated in fact that I am not sure whether my understanding contradicts it or not.

    Bradley Bowen said: “If God is just one person, with just one mind, one will, and one experience, and if Jesus is that will, the Father is that mind, and the Holy Spirit that experience, then an implication of this view is that I, as an ordinary person, am more complete than Jesus, and than the Father, and than the Holy Spirit.

    Several comments:

    I don’t identify the third hypostasis with “experience” but with “perception”. Experience strikes me as a more general term that encompasses all of a person’s experience of life, including mind and will. Perception denotes the passive aspects of personal experience, whereas will denotes the active aspects, and mind the intelligent/creative/identity-foundational aspects.

    I am not sure whether it is useful to consider the three hypostases as a “part” of a person, for one uses the concept of “part” in a way that does not comport with the hypostases. For example a wheel is a part of a car, and I can imagine a wheel without a car as well as a car without a will, but I can’t imagine will without a person or a person without will. In the context of Trinitarian theology too I think the three hypostases cannot exist in isolation, neither can God exist without one of the three.

    For me all persons are trinitarian, and we human trinities are of course less perfect than the divine Trinity, and each of our hypostases (our perception, our mind, our will) is less perfect than God’s respective hypostasis. As for Jesus His condition was as complete or as incomplete as our human condition is. More specifically our perception and our mind are equivalent to His, but our will is much less than His in perfection; at least mine is.

    Bradley Bowen said: “Why should I worship Jesus or the Father if I am a complete person, but they are merely parts of a person? How can I even have a meaningful relationship with a part of a person (e.g. a will)?

    One’s personal relationship is and can only be with God, but, as is the case with our relationship with other persons, it can be inspired by the goodness of any of their hypostases. Our relationship with God can then be a response to God’s perfection of will, that is to one’s experience of God’s love for us. But it can also be a response to God’s perfection of perception – God’s beauty. Or to God’s perfection of mind – God’s wisdom. In short one can relate to God through one of God’s hypostases.

    Incidentally “worship” strikes me as a much misunderstood word; worship in the context of one’s relationship to another person characterizes the kind of great, overflowing, and all-encompassing love one feels when one falls in love: one worships the beloved. Indeed falling in love is the best paradigm of one’s relationship with God, as Sufi poets have so well expressed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley Bowen said: “You imply that it is not possible for ‘God the Father to experience X and for God the Son not to experience X’. But I think the traditional Christian belief is that Jesus -the Son of God- suffered on the cross for our sins, but God the Father did not. So the traditional Christian view is that the Son of God can have experiences not had by God the Father.

    If so then my understanding of the Trinity is not compatible with the traditional Christian belief, for in my mind the claim that there is one God entails that there is also one experiencer and one experience: one perception, one mind, and one will. On the other hand, when people say that only Jesus suffered on the cross and not the Father, I wonder if that’s really the orthodox understanding. Could the orthodox understanding be that there are three different personal experiences in God, three different perceptions, three different minds, but apparently just one will? Jesus in John’s gospel says “when you have seen me you have seen the Father” but when they saw Him suffering on the cross they weren’t anymore seeing the Father for the Father was not suffering? Makes little sense to me. I personally find there is a lot of evidence that my understanding is the correct one and therefore is literally the orthodox one. Perhaps I shall try to explain why in a future post.

    In any case it seems to me that the use of the term “person” in relation to the dogma of the Trinity is a particularly unhappy one, for it mistranslates the Greek “prosopon” (which literally means “face” or “mask” and in context its meaning is closer to that of “character”). Perhaps there was a good reason that Greek fathers insisted on the more technical term “hypostasis” (or in English “subsistence”).

    I think there are several examples of such mistranslations which have led to momentous misunderstandings. Take for example the word “faith” (or “pistis” in the original Greek). When Jesus was exhorting His disciples to have faith in God (or when He calls them “you of little faith”) He certainly did not mean that they should believe in God, for they all already believed in God. Rather it is clear that Jesus meant that they should have trust in God, that they should commit themselves to God – which is a different thing altogether. Indeed that’s an alternative sense of the word “faith” in modern English too, as when a proud mother says “I have faith in my children”. Under the correct understanding of the word “faith” then the expression “salvation by faith alone” makes excellent and obvious sense. While the idea that salvation depends on one’s belief in Jesus makes no sense at all, as doesn't the common “accept Jesus as your savior and you’ll be saved” at least if by “accept” one understands “believe that”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Bradley Bowen said: “You use an analogy to argue that an infinite and unlimited mind could be the subject of ordinary human experiences: ‘…when I wear red goggles I experience limited color vision but this does not imply that I am no longer a full color vision person.’ But while you are wearing the red goggles you do not experience full color vision. At any given point in time you can either have limited color vision or full color vision.

    Correct, I can’t, but this does not imply that God can’t. We should be clear about this: God is a person just like we are, but is not just a person like we are; for God is also the foundation and sustainer of all reality. As God is a person we have the means to understand the personality of God, but God is not only a person. The theistic thesis is not “There is a perfect person out there existing in reality just like we do” but rather “The reality in which we exist is based on the presence of a perfect person”. To put it starkly the theistic claim is not “God exists in reality” but rather “Reality exists in God”. Or, as some theologians put it, “God is the ground of all being”. Or in the way I like to think of it “Reality is God structured”.

    Now I personally see no logical impossibility in God incarnating in Jesus and truly experiencing the human condition with all its limitations. As I said before, that God incarnated in Jesus does not imply that God was nowhere but in Jesus, but only that the subject of Jesus’s life was God. Timelines are not significant. Here is perhaps a better analogy than the goggles analogy: Once I had a little dog named Teca. Suppose I suddenly realized that the subject of Teca’s life was me, and I actually remembered experiencing Teca’s life with all its doggy limitations including of course the ignorance of actually being me. Suppose further I realized this fact while Teca was still alive, or even always knowing about. Can you see any logical impossibility in this state of affairs? But if there is no logical impossibility in the incarnation then it is certainly something that God could do, and I think one can see why God would want to do it.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14485509846775012081 Hari Seldon

    DG said "So? Why should a freethinking atheist care about the particular beliefs of believers? Even if there are errors in the beliefs of all believers, this would not falsify theism."

    Very few believers are just theists, most of them believe very strongly some particular beliefs.

    DG said "But Christianity makes an additional claim about the nature of God, namely that it is trinitarian. Judaism and Islam perhaps fail to see that, but this does not mean they contradict Christianity."

    Jews and Muslims reject such idea, therefore, they contradict Christianity.

    DG "Now by the same measure compare how well naturalists agree with each other."

    Irrelevant. Naturalism is not a religion nor a closed set of beliefs.

    Given that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam come historically from the same root (that explains the similarities, of course), it's just amazing that they contradict each other on the role of Jesus. That's a very large difference, I would say, and it is the believers themselves that consider it to be dramatically important. Otherwise, they would all be jews.

    BTW, what most christians believe is that Jesus is fully human and fully God, in some misterious way. Your explanation of the trinity makes the mistery go away, but it also makes it pretty irrelevant. It also opens the way for theologians to argue that God may consist of four or five parts, as they go deep into God's personality structure.

    Your explanation of the incarnation as God somewhat tapping into the mind of a human named Jesus also makes the whole thing pretty irrelevant. The majority of believers believe that Jesus was God in some stronger way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Hari Seldon said: “ Naturalism is not a religion nor a closed set of beliefs.

    Neither is theism a “closed set of beliefs”.

    Both theism and naturalism are ontological worldviews, and if the fact that theists disagree among themselves over many particulars can be construed as evidence against theism, then the fact that in comparison naturalists disagree among themselves much more still must be construed as even stronger evidence against naturalism.

    Hari Seldon said: “[The way Judaism, Christianity, and Islam understand Jesus] is a very large difference, I would say, and it is the believers themselves that consider it to be dramatically important.

    Sure. As far as the differences between the three great monotheistic religions go this is indeed a critical issue. But this is irrelevant to my original claim that if the epistemic distance between theism and naturalism is 100, then the epistemic difference between the three monotheistic religions is about 3, and therefore negligible when one compares theism to naturalism.

    Hari Seldon said: “ BTW, what most christians believe is that Jesus is fully human and fully God, in some misterious way. Your explanation of the trinity makes the mistery go away, but it also makes it pretty irrelevant.

    You mean it makes the incarnation of God in Jesus irrelevant? I don’t see why. On the contrary it makes Jesus’ sacrifice meaningful, it makes coherent the idea that Jesus is a model for us to follow, it comports better with the synoptic Gospels which are considered to be more historical, and it explains the Christian dogma that Jesus was fully human and fully God. Further the epistemic basis of my interpretation, namely that consciousness entails both the object and the subject of experience, helps one solve two especially difficult versions of the problem of evil, namely the problem of injustice, and the problem of animal suffering.

    That my interpretation removes a mystery can only be a plus. After all mysteries reveal either a limitation of understanding or else an error of understanding. Incidentally, the claim that we may suffer from fundamental cognitive limitations and that therefore there will always be mysteries around, makes more sense on naturalism than on theism. On naturalism our cognitive faculties are just the result of a blind naturalistic process that favored those better able to physically survive, and it is kind of surprising that we should have cognitive faculties to reach far beyond the knowledge needed for survival. So a naturalist may reasonably claim that we simply lack the cognitive faculties for knowledge that has absolutely nothing to do with one’s capacity to survive, as, for example, understanding consciousness (see in this context “new mysterianism”), or understanding the structure and fundamental properties of objective reality (the subject matter of metaphysics and of ontology). On theism our cognitive faculties are the result of our creation by a perfectly good God, which implies that God would have given us cognitive faculties capable of reaching all understanding that is useful in our current condition, including of course knowledge about Him/Her (that’s indeed one of the premises of the argument from nonbelief). What I am saying is that an agnostic is justified to tolerate more naturalists appealing to mystery than theists doing the same.

    Hari Seldon said: “ It also opens the way for theologians to argue that God may consist of four or five parts, as they go deep into God's personality structure.

    I would say that to go deep into God’s personality structure is precisely what theology is about.

    Hari Seldon said: “ The majority of believers believe that Jesus was God in some stronger way.

    Perhaps so, in some sense of “stronger”, but also irrelevant. Philosophy is not sociology. Philosophy is about objective truth, therefore philosophers (theist and atheist alike) should concern themselves with the best theistic beliefs and not with the beliefs of the majority of theists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10319931319583316309 JMaz

    Bradley,

    Initially you seemed to be lumping “the God of Western theism” with that of the God of Christianity, however, you later said, “I am personally more interested in critique of Christianity than critique of theism,” so this will affect my response to this post.

    First, I understand you are writing in a critique/response to a Trilemma argument written about by, it seems, McDowell. This would, I assume, answer my question as to where you come up with your definitions of who God is. But also seeing later that you’re from the USA and a former professing Evangelical Christian, I see where your definitions would come from as well.

    You said in one of your comments: “It is admitted by staunch defenders of orthodox Christianity that Jesus was not omniscient,” but for a Christian to be truly orthodox, they would derive their view of the possible divinity of Christ – and his characteristics that do or do not reflect this nature – from the Scriptures. So, seeing as how you’re wanting to make sure “Western theism” is narrowed down to Christianity (which is on the rise in China, which is one proof it is world-wide, not merely a Western religion), I think if you want to make these claims about Jesus not being God, you must look at the Holy Book of Christianity, the Bible, and see what it happened to say regarding Jesus.

    First you say that Jesus is not God because only God is good and Jesus was not. Yet you gave not examples of Jesus not being good from the Bible itself. Paul actually writes the Jesus “knew no sin” (2 Cor 5:21). Also, the author of Hebrews says, we have a High Priest in Jesus “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). I would hope that we could agree that to know no sin and to be tempted, yet not sin is to be “perfectly good.” Therefore, if Jesus is perfectly good, then Jesus could be God since no one else is perfectly good.

    Second, you say that Jesus couldn’t be God because he is not all-knowing. However, there are passages in the Gospels where Jesus knows what men are thinking – even knowing what they question in their hearts. Here’s an example from Mark’s gospel:

    “And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:5-12 ESV)

    How could Jesus “perceive in his spirit” that men “questioned within themselves” if he were not all-knowing? Hence, if Jesus is all-knowing, then Jesus could be God.

    Lastly, you wrote that Jesus could not be God because God is all-powerful and Jesus is not. However, if we look again in the Gospels Jesus stands up in a fisherman’s boat after he had been asleep during a storm – which was so horrendous it terrified these seasoned fishermen – and simply says to the wind and waves, “Peace. Be still!” and they “obey” him, as the disciples say (Mark 4:35-41). I can hardly get my dog to “be still” when I command her to do so. But if Jesus could command nature in this manner and it obeyed him, then Jesus could be God.

    Now, you were so bold as to say these 3 arguments proved Jesus could not be God, so I would in turn, having replied with an answer to your arguments, also boldly reply that Jesus IS God.

    John M.


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